ROME, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- The key to a sustainable energy future lies in a mix of natural gas and renewables such as wind and solar power, high-level international participants in the 4th annual Mediterranean Dialogues Conference (MED) said here on Friday.
Egyptian Oil Minister Tarek El Molla, who has served as chief of the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) and as a top executive at Chevron in the past, said his country has set a target of covering 40 percent of its domestic energy needs with renewables by 2035, with 55-58 percent reliant on gas and the rest on oil.
"We have begun to aggressively pursue this objective with our strategic partners, such as ENI (Italian energy giant), an important ally and friend of Egypt," the minister said.
ENI's discovery of the massive Zohr gas field in August 2015 has transformed the energy scenario for Egypt and the region as a whole, said El Molla.
"We went from discovery to market in 28 months, and were able to reach gas self-sufficiency by September 2018," the Egyptian minister said. "We are no longer importing energy, and are now exporting some gas."
The idea, said El Molla, is not only for Egypt to cover its own household and industrial energy needs but also to become a gas hub in the Eastern Mediterranean in cooperation with its neighbors in the region.
El Molla said that "economic growth is highly dependent on the growth of the energy segment", and that Egypt is eager to cooperate with its regional neighbors in this sector.
"We are looking for arrangements," he said, citing talks with the island nation of Cyprus for an underwater pipeline, as well as projects with Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Libya.
"When we talk about a gas hub we're not talking about Egypt, but about an Eastern Mediterranean cluster," the minister explained. "There will be an upstream and a downstream, so we complement each other".
"This will allow further opportunities for them and for us," he said, announcing that Egypt is launching an Eastern Mediterranean Forum with Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Jordan to kick off in Cairo in "early January".
In addition, he said, Egypt earlier this year signed a Memorandum of Understanding on energy with the European Union, which will "look at Egypt as an alternative, reliable supplier of gas".
ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi said that his company has made "four or five interesting discoveries" in the Egyptian desert and along with the Zohr gas field, this means there is "new life for the Egyptian energy system".
"In parallel, we are working on renewables (in our gas fields)," Descalzi said. "We are replacing our gas consumption with renewables to feed our machinery, and that helps free up gas for the domestic market."
Descalzi said that countries to north of the Mediterranean have money to invest and their economies need a lot of fuel, while countries to the south have a lot of natural resources and need foreign investors.
"There is still a big gap in the gross domestic product (GDP) between North and South," said Descalzi. Investing in countries south of the Mediterranean -- such as Egypt -- means reducing poverty, creating jobs, and ultimately giving people a reason not to migrate in search of a livelihood, the Italian energy executive said.
"We are looking to change our energy mix and we need to cut our CO2 emissions," said Descalzi.
"We have to be very efficient in our operations, and solar or wind energy plus gas best way for us to reduce emissions. We have to do a lot more, but our aspiration is to become carbon-neutral."
This means, for example, reforestation projects, because "it is absolutely essential to compensate for our CO2 production", said the ENI chief.
"Renewables are a priority for us," he continued. "Gas, renewables, and Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) ... are a priority for us because a company (such as ENI) which is so engaged in North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East, needs to reach carbon neutrality."
CCUS technologies remove and recycle CO2, the greenhouse gas that is at the root of global warming and climate change.
David Hobbs, the head of research at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) commented that "mutual interdependence is the best path to peace and stability" because it "requires a partnership of equals".
In the past, said Hobbs, the schemes that failed either relied too much on "independence rather than interdependence" or they relied too much on a single fuel or kind of technology.
Energy integration is the way forward, whether it be Saudi Arabia's ambition to become a major provider of solar power to its neighbors along with gas and oil, or the integration of natural gas with renewables to produce electricity, said Hobbs.
Speakers at the three-day conference include NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Undersecretary of State David Hale, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, plus political representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Malta, Oman, and Palestine.
Founded by Italy's former center-left prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, MED is built around four broad themes: shared prosperity; shared security; migration; and civil society and culture.
MED aims to draft a positive agenda for the Mediterranean, rethink traditional approaches, overcome regional rivalries, and promote sustainable development, according to its organizers, which are Italy's Foreign Ministry and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI).